Somalia: A New President and the Opportunity for Renewal
GAROWE ONLINE EDITORIAL
Political and economic growth in Somalia hinges at the crossroads where federal and state interests meet, and how those interests are maneuvered, so as to protect the best of Somali national interests.
Somalia has a new President. After over 42 years without a genuine election, the war-battered Horn of Africa country of 10 million people underwent a U.N.-facilitated transitional process, culminating in the adoption of a Provisional Federal Constitution on 1 August 2012, and the 10 September 2012 election of a new President by a newly selected Federal Parliament.
While the elections and the new faces in the highest offices of the country provide a glimmer of renewed hope and opportunity, Somalia is still a deeply fragmented country, torn apart by decades of dictatorship, corruption, political violence, entrenched mistrust, and the after-effects of terrorism and piracy. In fact, it is the later two – terrorism and piracy – have catapulted world powers into action and drawn in the security interests of powers as diverse as the U.S., China, and Russia.
On 12 September 2012, only two days after his election as Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was the target of deadly suicide bombings at his hotel residence in Mogadishu, and the attacks were claimed by Al Shabaab terrorist group, further underscoring the fragility of the country’s security situation and the need for robust and sustainable action to rescue Somalia from the ravages of ruin.
The new President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, beat his closest challenger for the parliamentary vote by a margin of 190 votes to 79 votes for the incumbent, former TFG President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. This overwhelming vote cannot be singularly understood as a vote for President Hassan, but rather more meaningfully as a vote for change, change away from the political landscape of the two Sharifs (Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and former TFP Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden), who remained deeply unpopular in Somali politics due to their well orchestrated acts of manipulation, bribery, intimidation, and outright treason.
A week prior to election day, speculation was that Sharif Sheikh Ahmed stood a good chance to be re-elected as President, but widespread abhorrence ensued after the other Sharif – Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden – endorsed Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s presidential bid. In the end, newcomer and political novice Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took the championship title with relative comfort.
But after the election victory, President Hassan faces monumental tasks ahead. Somalia today is divided into a number of different entities controlling territories in different parts of the country. Moreover, the different entities operate under differing political ideologies and one of the daunting tasks expected of the new Somali Federal Government is to provide a common ground amongst the competing political ideologies, excluding groups linked to religious extremism or clan fanaticism.
For example, in the north, the unrecognized separatist “Republic of Somaliland” in northwestern Somalia claims to be an independent nation, and Puntland State of Somalia in northeastern Somalia claims to be the first established state in the new Federal Republic of Somalia. In the south-central regions, the situation is generally more fluid and volatile: Galmudug State of Somalia controls a number of districts in southern Mudug region, while Ahlu Sunna Sufi militia group controls most districts of Galgadud region, although Al Shabaab group maintains a heavy presence in El Bur district of Galgadud region.
Key towns such as Beledweyne and Baidoa remain under the control of Ethiopian armed forces, while Mogadishu and Merka are dominated by African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) from Uganda and Burundi. In the deep south Jubba regions, Kenyan troops under AMISOM mandate are joined by Somali local fighters aiming to re-take the key port of Kismayo from the grip of Al Shabaab, a key source of revenue for the group’s guerrilla and terrorist attacks against the country’s internationally-backed government. In this land of complexities and intricate dynamics, any wrong move could shift things completely in an unintended direction, and if every step is not carefully planned and actions are undertaken in harmony between the center and the peripheral powers, the outcome could have devastating consequences for Somalia and the wider region.
Somalia’s new leadership must stress and focus first on re-building the country’s security apparatus – simultaneously, the military, police, and intelligence components should be established with the formidable assistance of Somalia’s international partners. It is a fact that AMISOM peacekeepers, nor the forces of neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, will remain inside Somalia forever and as such, it is incumbent upon the Somali Federal Government to establish professionalized forces capable enough of handling the country’s delicate security situation. For the new government, it would indeed be wise and ultimately beneficial for stability to seek a balance in the national forces structure among Somali communities and regions, in the ongoing process to re-build the country’s national forces.
After security, the second major challenge – and opportunity – is how the new government deals with federalism; as its predecessor government, will the new leaders abhor federalism and fear it as a success model for Somalia? Or will the new leadership embrace federalism, engage the regions, and forge stronger cooperation between the Federal Government and the states? This question will ultimately have great impact on the country’s future trajectory, in terms of security cooperation, political cohesion, and economic opportunities. Political and economic growth in Somalia hinges at the crossroads where federal and state interests meet, and how those interests are maneuvered, so as to protect the best of Somali national interests.
Additionally, the new government should pursue a policy of genuine reconciliation from the grassroots up and open the doors among local communities, giving people the opportunity to speak out against crimes and human rights abuses.
In the end, the purpose is to engender renewed trust among local communities and slowly build upon the restored ties to accomplish objectives in governance, stability, and development. Somalia has experienced the failed method of “reconciliation among warlords” and today Somalia needs “reconciliation among the people” – this provides long-term solutions to issues of peace and stability in the different zones of Somalia.
The new President is also expected to appoint a capable Prime Minister who, backed by a strong Cabinet, can deliver on political promises and work efficiently on implementing development projects, through effective politic decisions. Somalia, after all, needs development projects to jump-start the economy, provide opportunities for livelihoods, and eventually attract the vast Somali Diaspora to partake in the national development of Somalia.
Despite enormous challenges in security, politics, economy, and social affairs, the new Somali Federal Government and its leadership have a clean plate and the opportunity for renewal. T he Somali people and the world at large shall measure their performance depending on how the new leaders benefit from this opportunity for renewal.
Today, the advantage belongs to the new government and its leadership – but by tomorrow, judgments will have been reached, and public opinion can at the very least lead to crippling the government’s capacity.
We hope that new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud will deliver, and we hope that the Somali people will give the new president the an opportunity to move and maneuver, and re-direct the new Somalia towards peace, security, development, and prosperity. May Allah Almighty make his a journey of success.
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